Les mots de la semaine

Some words that came up this week in the French conversation group I go to.

français English
travailler to work (on)
to practise (a musical instrument, tune, song)
travailler son piano to do one’s piano practice
Je devrais m’exercer davantage I ought to practise more
pratiquer to practise (a language)
to play / do (a sport)
to apply (a method, theory)
to carry out (an intervention, operation)
Je dois pratiquer mon espagnol I need to practise my Spanish
s’entraîner to practise (sport)
L’équipe s’entraîne le jeudi The team practises on Thursdays
excercer to practise (as a doctor, dentist, lawyer)

Pronunciation is fun

The other day I realised that one reason I like languages is because I enjoy just saying foreign words and phrases, especially ones that contain sounds and combinations of sounds not used in English. I imitate native speakers as best I can – not just the sounds of the words, but the intonation, and even pitch of their voices as well.

At the moment I’m learning Swedish, Danish, Russian and Slovenian. I started learning Swedish out of interest in the language, and because I like the sound of it, and have fun pronouncing it. I started learning Danish and Slovenian in preparation for trips to Denmark and Slovenia, but also enjoy pronouncing them. I’ve been learning Russian on and off for years for various reasons, and enjoy pronouncing it.

Maybe I’ll learn some other languages just to have fun pronouncing them. Languages with clicks, like Zulu and Xhosa, or with ejectives, like Georgian. I already know some songs in these languages, so it would be quite useful to know a bit more about them. It would also be interesting to visit places where they’re spoken, and to use them, but that would not be a priority.

If I do this, I would search for the most interesting-sounding words and phrases, and also tongue twisters, rather than focusing on the most common words and grammatical patterns. I probably wouldn’t learn to speak and understand the languages, but would have fun anyway.

Here are some tongue twisters to play with:

And here’s a tongue twister in Xhosa:

Have you learnt, or are you learning, any languages because you like the sound of them and enjoy pronouncing them?


Last night I saw the film Black Panther, and quite enjoyed it, especially the linguistic elements.

The film is based in the fictional African country Wakanda. The characters speak mainly in English, but sometimes slip into Xhosa, which is nice to hear.

The titles and credits at the beginning and end of the film first appear in a mysterious script, which also appears on various signs and decorative elements in the film. Today I found a font for this script, which seems to be called Wakandan, and put together a page about it. Here’s an example:

A sample text in the Wakandan alphabet (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

The text then changes into a version of the Latin alphabet which looks a bit like the mystery script. It is in fact a typeface known as BEYNO, which was designed by Swiss designer and illustrator Fabian Korn. Here’s an example:

A example of the BEYNO typeface used in the Black Panther film

Sounds good to me

Have you ever learnt a language just because you like the way it sounds?

This is one of the reasons for learning a language discussed by John McWhorter is this TED talk:

He talks about the joys of getting your tongue round the sounds of other languages, and mentions Khmer, with its large inventory of vowels.

Which languages sound good to you?

Are there any particular sounds or combinations of sounds that really appeal to you (in any language)?

I like listening to languages with clicks, such as Xhosa and Zulu, and also to ones with ejectives, such as Georgian. I also like listening to and speaking tonal languages, like Mandarin and Cantonese.

At the moment, my favourite language in terms of sounds, is Swedish.

Other sound favourites include Japanese, Finnish, Italian, Icelandic and Swahili.